TO: Interested Parties
DATE: May 8, 2019
RE: School Shooting at Colorado’s STEM School Highlands Ranch
As the school day was coming to an end on Tuesday afternoon at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, gunfire began echoing through the hallways. Two students armed with handguns opened fire on two classrooms. One 18-year-old student was killed and eight other students were injured. An armed private security guard hired to work at the STEM School was first to respond and confront one of the suspects. The guard is a former Marine and has been described as “instrumental” in stopping the shooting. Both suspects, an 18-year-old male and a juvenile girl, were taken into custody. Investigators believe that at least one of the suspects stole the guns from the parents of the 18-year-old suspect.
The student killed in yesterday’s shooting, Kendrick Castillo, was shot while rushing one of the shooters. Castillo had only three days left of classes before he was set to graduate. First responders credited Castillo with saving lives.
“The next thing I know, he’s pulling a gun and telling nobody to move. That’s when Kendrick lunged at him, and he shot Kendrick, giving us all enough time to get underneath our desks to get ourselves safe, to run across the room to escape.” — Student Nui Giasolli on NBC’s “Today”
Castillo’s death marks the second tragedy in two weeks in which a student was shot and killed in an attempt to stop a shooter attacking a classroom. Last week, Riley Howell, a 21-year-old student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, was killed while tackling a gunman who opened fire in his classroom. Six people were shot and two were killed on the last day of spring classes.
The STEM School is a K–12 school with a population of about 1,800 students. Located just seven miles from Littleton, Colorado, yesterday’s tragedy was disturbingly familiar for this community, which just marked the 20th Anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in which two students opened fire on their classmates, killing 12 young people and one teacher.
Our team will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as we learn more. In the meantime, the following experts are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, email [email protected].
- Peter Ambler, Executive Director, Giffords
- Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Giffords Law Center
- David Chipman, Former ATF Agent, Senior Policy Advisor, Giffords
- Laura Cutilletta, Managing Director, Giffords Law Center
- Robin Lloyd, Managing Director, Giffords
- Lindsay Nichols, Federal Policy Director, Giffords Law Center
- Allison Anderman, Senior Counsel, Managing Attorney, Giffords Law Center
Background about Colorado Gun Laws
In 2017, Colorado had the nation’s 24th highest gun death rate. Colorado received a C on our 2018 gun law scorecard. Since the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado has taken several steps to improve its gun laws. The state requires a background check on most unlicensed gun transfers, has procedures in place for firearm relinquishment by convicted domestic abusers, and prohibits the sale, transfer, and possession of certain large-capacity ammunition magazines. In April 2019, Colorado became the 15th state to pass an extreme risk protection order law, allowing firearms to be temporarily removed from individuals in crisis.
Still, the state’s gun laws leave room for improvement. While Colorado does have a law that prohibits an adult from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly providing a minor with a handgun, the law does not go far enough to prevent access by individuals under 18 years of age. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that impose criminal liability on parents and other adults who store firearms in places they should know are accessible to minors. Some of those states only impose liability, however, if the minor actually takes the firearm and uses it to do harm, as was reported to be the case in Tuesday’s STEM shooting.
Colorado’s gun laws could be strengthened in other ways. The state does not require gun owners to obtain a license or report lost or stolen guns. Colorado also does not limit the number of guns that can be purchased at one time, impose a waiting period on gun purchases, or provide law enforcement with the discretion to deny a concealed handgun permit.
Background on Frequency of School Shootings
Tragically, this is the 30th incident of gun violence on K–12 school grounds just this year. The shooting also marks the fourth school shooting in Colorado since Columbine in 1999. Between 2013 and 2018, there has been an average of nearly one incident of gun violence at K–12 schools each week.
Alarmingly, data indicates that gun violence in schools is on the rise. In 2018—a year in which we experienced two of the deadliest school shootings in recent history—there were more incidents of gun violence and more gun deaths at schools than any other year on record, going back to at least 1970. Gun violence at schools can be intentional, like in Arkansas at the beginning of April, or unintentional, like last month’s incident in Florida.
Background about the Lifelong Impacts of Trauma
Most American schoolchildren have lived through at least six of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in American history. Unsurprisingly, a majority of high school students report feeling concerned about a mass shooting in their school or community.
Research is clear on the negative mental health consequences of living in a country where school shootings are so common. Children who directly witness gun violence or lose a close friend or family member in a shooting are more likely to have PTSD symptoms and often suffer severe anxiety and debilitating trauma, the consequences of which can persist into adulthood Even students who never hear gunfire but who are forced to write farewell messages to their families while hunkered underneath a desk during a lockdown can be severely traumatized.
Exposure to gun violence triggers a chain of trauma that can last a lifetime. Exposure to school shootings decreases the academic performance of students, which can impact college enrollment and future earnings. Traumatic event exposure can also cause chronic stress, the effects of which can manifest as serious, life-threatening health conditions in adulthood. Children exposed to violence are also more likely to become aggressive or violent —either against themselves or others—perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Background about Guns in Schools
Guns have no place in our nation’s schools. That’s why Colorado and the vast majority of states — 47 in all—prohibit carrying or possessing a firearm on K–12 school property. But despite schools’ best efforts to keep guns off their premises, kids with access to guns sometimes bring them to school, and use them. In 2018 alone, an average of eight incidents of gun violence took place at K–12 schools each month. Multiple analyses show that a majority of school shootings are carried out by students who obtain guns from their home or the home of a relative or friend. For example, over two-thirds of students who used guns to commit “targeted violence” against their school acquired the gun(s) used in their attacks from their own home or that of a relative. Another analysis of acts of gun violence at primary and secondary schools involving shooters under the age of 18 found that 80% of guns used in these attacks were acquired from the child’s home or those of relatives or friends. Alarmingly, over 4.6 million minors live in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms. One study showed that 73% of children under age 10 reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms and 36% admitted that they had handled the weapons, including many whose parents had reported their children did not know the location of their firearm.
Research, Data & Related Studies
- In 2017, Colorado had the 24th highest gun death rate among the states, with a gun death rate of 13.4 gun deaths per 100,000 persons—nearly 12% higher than the national average. In 2017, there were 779 gun deaths in Colorado.
- Someone is killed with a gun every 12 hours in Colorado. From 2013 to 2017, 604 people under age 25 were killed with a gun in Colorado. Guns are the second-leading cause of death for Colorado children ages 1–17.
- A report published by the US Secret Service and the Dept. of Education found that over two-thirds (68%) of students who used guns to commit “targeted violence” against their school acquired the gun (or guns) used in their attacks from their own home or that of a relative.
- According to the Gun Violence Archive, this marks the nation’s 115th mass shooting in 2019 (incidents in which four or more people were killed or injured by a shooter). This is the second mass shooting in the state of Colorado since January 1.
- A comprehensive analysis compiled by Giffords revealed more than 65 incidents of mishandled guns in schools over the past five years.
- In 2018, there were more incidents of gun violence and more gun deaths at schools than any other year on record. A student’s chance of dying in a school shooting reached its highest level in at least 25 years.
Statement from Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords:
Statement from Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (05/07/2019)
“My heart is with the parents, students, teachers, and first responders in Colorado currently living the nightmare that far too many communities have been forced to face. As a nation, we have failed to prevent the threat of gun violence from becoming a numbing reality for our children.
“How many more kids will have to run from a shooter? How many more will have to message their family from a hiding place? How many more families will have their lives forever altered by tragedy? Our children deserve better.
“Children deserve to feel safe at school, at home, and in their neighborhoods. They deserve a childhood where their biggest worry is completing their homework, not listening for the sound of gunfire outside their classroom. They deserve elected leaders who will do everything in their power to fight the gun violence crisis that’s impacting every family, causing heartbreak in every community, and devastating this country. It’s been 69 days since the House of Representatives passed their background checks bill. When will we see that kind of leadership from the Senate and White House?”